Nurses Week occurs every year during the second week of May, and much fanfare is made of the pizza parties, tote bags, water bottles, and signs proclaiming heroes work here.”reflecting-on-nurses-week-what-would-florence-think

If we want to be more thoughtful and reflective about the phenomenon of National Nurses Week, theres much more to this annual moment of recognition than these familiar superficial trappings.

And since Nurses Week is built around the celebration of Florence Nightingales birthday (May 12, 1820), its appropriate to wonder what the veritable godmother of modern nursing would think of how we do (or dont) celebrate our profession.

What Would Florence Think?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) has chosen the theme Nurses Make the Difference” for the 2024 celebration. While not altogether original or overly inspiring, we can all agree that nurses make a difference in patient care, research, entrepreneurship, academia, technology, and other areas of endeavor.

Would Ms. Nightingale agree that nurses make a difference? She certainly would, and I would venture that she would have much to say about how that statement rings true. In her time, nurses were purveyors of comfort, cleanliness in the form of improved sanitation and hygiene, and the carrying out of physicians’ orders in caring for the infirm, the injured, and the dying.

In Nightingales theory, nurses aimed to ensure that patients were cared for in a manner that allowed nature to intervene in the interest of their health (e.g., the healing of wounds, the resolution of infection, etc.). If she saw nursing as the activities that promote health which occurs in any caregiving situation,” nurses make a difference by assuring patients are cared for in a way that maximizes their healing potential. And if, as can be asserted, Nightingales theory sees illness as the absence of comfort,” nurses’ ability to provide comfort can make all the difference in the world.

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Theres no doubt that Ms. Nightingale would agree that nurses’ ability to provide positive interventions in the interest of patients’ healing is a central mission of the profession. However, what would she think of how we recognize nurses for their efforts during the annual celebration of her birthday?

In Nightingales day, there were no tote bags or water bottles bearing the hospital logo, nor were there pizza parties, greeting cards, and banners hung over hospital entrances. While its all conjecture on our part, one might hope she would look down upon such superficial acknowledgments of nursesworth.

Even though Nightingale was a revolutionary, out-of-the-box thinker as a Victorian woman, she might still be significantly shocked at the wages nurses command in the 21st century. She would also likely be shocked by the salaries earned by hospital CEOs, let alone the power of the insurance industry.

As a brilliant and forward-thinking woman, Nightingale would be likely quick to understand that womens place in 21st-century post-industrial society has dramatically evolved since her time, and one could imagine that she would be wholly supportive of nurses receiving increases in salary, benefits, and other forms of recognition that demonstrate acknowledgment of their value as healthcare professionals. Plainly stated, Nightingale might be heard to remark, Give those nurses a substantial raise — they deserve it.”

Reflecting on Nurses Week

Some hard-working nurses will likely appreciate an employer’s gestures during Nurses Week through food, gifts, and banners expressing gratitude for their contributions.

That said, salary increases, improved benefits, tuition and certification reimbursement, and other support for nurse professional development would likely be much more well-received. Improvements in staffing, protections against workplace violence, and updated technologies that truly make our work easier would also likely be much more well-received.

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Nurses make a difference, and the satisfaction of a job well done can go far in creating ones personal sense of self-worth, especially when coupled with patients’ and colleagues’ respect.

Nurses Week is a moment to pause for the cause and reflect on our value in the scheme of things. Tote bags and pizza aside, our works true value provides meaning, and Nightingale knew this too well.

What would Nightingale think? She would think that 21st-century nurses have greatly advanced the profession. She might also remind us that what we feel in our hearts—and the thoughts we have about who we are and what we do—always matter most in the larger scheme of things.

Keith Carlson
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